Archives by Day

December 2023

Cyberpunk 2077

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: CD Projekt RED Studio
Release Date: Dec. 10, 2020


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PC Review - 'Cyberpunk 2077' Phantom Liberty DLC + DLSS 3.5

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 25, 2023 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Cyberpunk 2077 is a narrative-driven, open world RPG set in the most vibrant and dangerous metropolis of the future — Night City.

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is the last and only real piece of DLC for the game, as its rocky launch made the team alter its plans for more content down the road. It also marks the last time that the team at CD Projekt Red will get to work on its own RED Engine, as it's gone on record saying that the next game will be done on Unreal Engine. The hope is that Phantom Liberty is an expansion that sends off this iteration of Cyberpunk 2077 on a high note, and that would almost be the case if it weren't for a few things.

Before we can discuss Phantom Liberty, we need to talk about patch 2.0, which is a major component of the entire game and the expansion. A slew of improvements tweak several elements in major ways to the point that a full replay is tempting, since the experience is different. Cops are a perfect example, as they no longer spawn magically into the area whenever you commit a crime. In standard Grand Theft Auto fashion, the crime gets called in, officers in the area eventually find you, and then you'll get into firefights with them. They still aren't that great chasing you on foot, but they do a better job of chasing you down with their cars and bikes. They also get distracted when gang members are around and tend to get into firefights with them; that can play to your advantage if you get lucky. The cops run on the now-standard five-star system, with things quickly escalating if you keep killing cops, making the experience worthwhile for those looking to turn this into a futuristic crime game.

Coinciding with the improved law enforcement system is the addition of car combat. There are cars that come with their own weapons so you can rekindle some Twisted Metal memories, but you can also use your own guns to shoot. Combined with the improved police behavior and various gangs roaming each district, it's a feature that you might use quite a bit. There's also an option to shoot out the tires, which is great if you don't want to burn through ammo trying to blow up a car.

Perks are another thing that has changed greatly with the 2.0 patch. Instead of getting statistical upgrades every time you level up, you're given the chance to get some real upgrades to make your version of V significantly different from everyone else's. For example, you can get a health refill by running or give yourself a quick dodge to avoid enemy fire or punches. Swords can block bullets, or you can hack panels in fewer steps. Stat increases are still present, but they're passive now, so you never have to worry about using points to upgrade them.

There's a host of smaller changes from the patch, from making clothes more cosmetic rather than armor to making the NPC smarter about not getting run over. It's more than enough to want to start over, but for those who don't want to take that plunge, the game smartly handles the transition, since the underlying systems are so different. You can completely re-spec your character, but those who don't want to go through that will see that the game replaces perk quite intelligently.

The PC version of the patch also comes with a few distinct traits of its own. Those with AMD CPUs will find an option for AMD SMT, where you can make the game use only physical or logical cores if you don't want to leave the default to all cores. The big change comes from the use of DLSS 3.5. It's pretty much an open secret that Nvidia likes to use this game as its showpiece for ray tracing and other tech, and DLSS 3.5 concentrates on cleaning up the ray tracing segment of the game before it gets upscaled and hit with AI frames from regular DLSS 3.0. Turning it on really helps make the ray-traced reflections and light bloom look absolutely clean in motion, but performance improvements vary wildly. We're using a system with the RTX 4090 in it, 32GB RAM, and a Ryzen 7 7700, and the game produces an average of 70fps and a 56fps low with the Ray Tracing Overdrive preset and any DLSS 3.x options off in the built-in benchmark. Turn on DLSS 3, and this jumps to a 105fps average with a 92fps low, but turn on the ray reconstruction option from DLSS 3.5, and you'll see that the change is barely perceptible with a 109fps average and 95fps low. The frame rate differences with ray reconstruction on and off are more noticeable in areas of the game filled with more neon lights but generally, the option is welcome.

That said, the game still sports some odd graphical issues. You'll still see some texture flicker, especially on glass where excessive bloom still exists with ray tracing on. In some cases, whole objects like a liquor bottle would disappear, so a drink would be poured by a bartender out of thin air. Tarp covering walls tends to have their details change at such a close distance and dramatically so; one moment, the tarp is clean and the next moment, it suddenly has holes. Nvidia's DLAA technology makes the game worse when you turn it on; the frame rate is halved, ray reconstruction is turned off, ghosting is very prevalent, and the game feels sluggish. We tested this before and after the Nvidia patch for their cards made specifically for this game and saw no difference.

All of those elements are present without the Phantom Liberty DLC, but those who do buy the DLC are in for a wild ride. The story takes place after you've got the Relic in your head, where you learn that you can talk to the digital ghost of Johnny Silverhand and learn that the chip will eventually kill you. While minding your own business, you get a call from a hacker named Songbird asking you to go to Dogtown, a section of Night City that is ruled by an ex-soldier-turned-dictator named Kurt Hansen. Considering the notoriety of that sliver of Pacifica, you refuse but ultimately take on the job due to the promise of getting the Relic removed before you die from it.

The story starts off with you going to Dogtown to rescue President Myers, whose aircraft crash-landed in that area. Getting her to safety and out of Dogtown only comprises the opening segments of the campaign, as it then spirals into a few different areas. Waking up sleeper agents, reuniting black ops agents, dealing with a potential digital threat to the world, and going on another rescue mission are just a few of the main story points you'll encounter, and while you can still choose to respond to these in any way you want, there is at least one point during the back half of the game where one choice you make drastically changes how the story ends.

The missions can be quite varied. Aside from the big set pieces, like the rescue of President Myers, the main missions feel very much like a spy thriller. You'll try to blend in with the rich by playing roulette to squeeze info out of them without making it obvious. You'll look out for a car to hijack, so you can take on the identities of black market resellers or hijack surveillance towers to get a better view of things before a mission. That aforementioned choice near the end of the game opens up a different set of main missions; it led us to a planned ambush and a sequence that required extreme stealth. The side missions also have some interesting tasks of their own, like trying to free a ripperdoc that works pro bono for the poor or getting rid of a netrunner that's causing trouble in the area.

What makes these missions work well is twofold. First, each one still has a sense of freedom in the approach. You can sneak past guards in an abandoned hotel, but you can also go in with guns blazing, and the game will let you do so with only a slight reprimand. Second, the game plays around with the option of choice, as some of those missions can have different outcomes. In the netrunner side mission, you discover that there's an agent who has gone in deep cover to locate the bigger operation, leaving you with the option of keeping your target alive so he can do his job or eliminating them both so your client doesn't get killed. The missions are more enjoyable to take on, and the whole thing gets better when you learn that you've got a new set of missions after the end of the campaign that give you a completely different V-focused ending compared to the base game.

Dogtown feels both different from and similar to the rest of Night City. It isn't as spread out as the rest of the districts in Night City, but it is very dense; there doesn't seem to be much wasted space. The dirty nature of the place will remind you heavily of nearby Pacifica, but it has some character of its own, with a large, lit-up pyramid as the location of a bustling nightclub, and the high-rise hotel is the private club for the rich. There's trash and trashed-out buildings everywhere — in addition to tons of black-market vendors among closed shops. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, and it remains connected to all of Night City through a gate that cleverly disguises any loading sequences, so it never feels like you need to make a conscious decision about leaving or returning to Dogtown. Some of your missions force you to do this anyway.

The main draw for some will be the characters. You don't get that sense at first, since Hansen seems rather one-note, and there's not much more to get from President Myers beyond what's on the surface. Alex, an old agent that you meet later on, seems like she goes down this path but reveals lots more about her personality and history through text conversations and a few chats. The same goes for Mr. Hands, the fixer from the base game who shows up more prominently in the DLC. Even Johnny Silverhand gets more exposition that details his past and provides more background about him being overly negative. Your two main characters are the talented netrunner Songbird, real name Song So Mi, and the sleeper agent you wake up, Solomon Reed. You get a ton of backstory, their relationship to one another, and how each one got into their respective messes. The script does a great job of giving them a large dose of humanity, even if one of them has seemingly gotten at least half of that human part ripped out. Their performances do an excellent job of making you question whether any of the choices you make in a mission are correct. This is pretty much their story, and you're just an unwilling participant, but there's enough to make you want to revisit those different story branches to see all of the possible outcomes.

The only part of the DLC that feels undercooked is the new skill tree you get for Relics. There are a few options in the tree that are cool, such as the ability to lunge with Mantis Arms at your disposal or being able to cloak at any moment. However, there aren't as many options available as you'd hope when compared to the abilities the other skill trees. It also doesn't help that upgrades to this tree can only be done with special relic points instead of the other points in the system. Hunting down these specific points is necessary since you rarely earn them normally, and after taking one look at the tree, the incentive to do that is only present for completionists.

Except for some lingering bugs and other graphical issues, the Phantom Liberty DLC serves as an ideal swan song for this iteration of Cyberpunk 2077. The story is gripping from beginning to end thanks to some expected but exciting plot twists, a big diverging point in the story that occurs way before the end of the campaign, and some very memorable and fleshed-out characters. The tale may be somewhat self-contained, but the ties to the rest of the city make it feel like a proper expansion versus something completely siloed off from the rest of the game. That would be a good enough reason for existing fans to take the plunge, but given the various changes made by patch 2.0, it's a game that's definitely worth jumping into if you've been waiting for a good chunk of the issues to get cleared up.

Score: 9.0/10

More articles about Cyberpunk 2077
blog comments powered by Disqus